The Reformed Churches Reject Images Of Jesus

96. What does God require in the second Commandment?

That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.

97. May we not make any image at all?

God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping any likeness of them, either to worship them, or to serve God by them.

98. But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?

No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols,1 but by the lively preaching of His word.

Heidelberg Catechism 1563.


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5 comments

  1. Dr. Clark,
    In my church, which was built in the 1700s, there is a stain glass window which has a representation of Jesus. It is a constant distraction to have to mind where I look in the sanctuary, particularly mornings when I get to preach. In light of this, the question I have is really practical. After I finish my intern work and look for my own pastoral call, should churches with stain glass windows be off the table? Obviously, this is not easily removed since the window is built into the church and would likely be protected historically, as much of the building is. Do we take churches with permanent images and work to change them? How do we handle an incredibly expensive obstacle to pure worship?

    • Harrison,

      It’s a great difficulty. Historic buildings are sometimes modified. Of course the Westminster Divines modified them (e.g., St Paul’s) by hauling out the organs and setting them alight! That may not be possible today but we have only a few options:

      1) modify our confession (I don’t think this is the correct path);
      2) if we are convinced that our confession is still sound then;
      3) cover the offending item;
      4) remove the offending item.

      Where a building has historic status then the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities will have to petition the appropriate civil authorities for relief. I would be surprised if the civil authorities would refuse to accommodate the conscience of those who own/use the building. Here is where not having a state-church is an advantage. Where there is a state-church, the process will be longer. One if tempted to say that the congregation should tell the authorities that they have become Muslim. One suspects the authorities would respond promptly then.

      Assuming that the removal/covering of an offending item is within the authority of the congregation, then it would be essential to prepare the way with good, patient, clear teaching from God’s Word about the matter.

      Likely as not, the presence of an image is symptomatic of a broader issue and the underlying issue needs attention even before the matter of images.

  2. In Exodus 32 Aaron, a priest to be, fashioned a ‘god’ at the request of the people. A god they could more understand, wrap their head around, not the one of this mysterious Moses. Aaron said this was the god that brought them out of Egypt. The next day they worshipped Yahweh, LORD, after their image. Aaron attempted to not deny Yahweh but met the felt needs of the people. And what did the Lord do? I suggest we tremble, pray for our misguided brethren, ask for his Mercy upon his people. Obviously the Lord takes this more seriously than we do.

  3. I think this can be taken too far though, because the Bible presents the Holy Spirit in the image of a Dove, and it presents Jesus as Lamb and as the Bread of the Lord’s Supper. If images are categorically forbidden, this would result in serious problems, especially with the Sacrament.

    • Nick,

      Literary imagery is one thing. The dove is another. That was not a metaphor. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove. Thus, the Reformed churches have historically avoided that representation for religious purposes. That said, we should cautious about representations of the deity apart from those authorized by God, namely the holy sacraments. They are sufficient.

      The big point is that the Scriptures are sufficient. They are meant to be heard and read and made visible in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

      The big question is why the Scriptures are not sufficient?

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